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SC Charter School District Troubles

Data drama rocks district … deeper dysfunction looms …

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In yet another example of taxpayer-funded bureaucrats dropping the ball, South Carolina’s statewide charter school district is reportedly having “serious issues” managing its student data.

That’s according to a scathing letter sent last week from S.C. superintendent of education Molly Spearman to Elliot Smalley, the superintendent of the S.C. Public Charter School District.

“In following up on complaints from schools in the (charter) district, we have discovered serious issues related to the district’s records,” Spearman wrote to Smalley in the letter, a copy of which was obtained exclusively by this website.

Spearman added that the data used by the charter district “has significant problems,” and that “these problems need to be fixed immediately.”

Specifically, the charter district is said to be having all sorts of issues related to “student unique numbers” – which are used to identify and track individual students within the system.  Smalley’s district is also under fire for an alleged lack of responsiveness to various member institutions experiencing problems with the network, including one school which said it was “unable to reach district staff to obtain access rights to the system.”

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(Via: Provided)

Any of this sound familiar?  Sadly, it should.  Across state government, computer systems costing taxpayers millions of dollars simply don’t work.  Or in some cases, they haven’t been built despite years of fines, fees and false starts.

Is that what’s happening here?  Not necessarily …

“This isn’t bad software,” one source tracking the charter district’s difficulties told us. “This is user error.”

Whatever the issue, Spearman – who met with Smalley on September 21 to discuss the matter – is clearly running out of patience with the charters’ chief.

“The district must ensure that its schools are supported so that data and financial reporting is accurate,” she wrote. “As you know the accuracy of date in the student information system is crucial for federal and state reporting, accountability and funding.  Failure to accurately maintain these data results in issues for the students, families, the district, its schools and the state.”

Sources familiar with the situation told us this week that the charter district’s troubles go beyond just data dysfunction.  We’re told there are a host of other issues plaguing the system, which we intend to address in future installments.

As for this installment, Smalley’s district did not immediately respond to our request for comment – but we look forward to bringing our readers any response we may receive from him or his staff related to this report.   We also look forward to incorporating their perspectives into our future coverage.

As this news site previously reported, Smalley came to South Carolina from Tennessee under a cloud of controversy.  That cloud has followed him, although he and his supporters have consistently maintained that they are facing heat because they have insisted on tougher standards for charter schools.

Obviously this news site has never confused government-subsidized “public school choice” (which includes charter schools) with the broad-based universal parental choice available in a pure free market system.  As far as we see it, “choices” within the government-run system (in which the government retains all of the control – and all of the money) are not really choices.

Having said that, we do see greater potential upside for charter schools than we see for conventional government-run schools – which are costly, unmitigated disasters in South Carolina.  Accordingly, we’ve always felt that comprehensive market-based reform should be accompanied by expanded flexibility and creativity within the government’s failed top-down system.

Unfortunately, neither of those two things are happening in the Palmetto State right now … which is why our state’s academic outcomes continue to languish despite hundreds of millions of additional tax dollars being poured into the system.

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